It was the closest thing car salesmen have to group therapy.
"You are not bad people," motivational speaker Timothy C. Gercke told the 29 car salesmen who filled a conference room at an Annapolis hotel yesterday. "You're going to make a difference."
The salesmen came for this day of insider tips, business briefings and ethics lessons designed to create a more sensitive car salesman and to help change what they say is an undeserved image as fast talkers and scam artists. The meeting at the Wyndham Garden Hotel was part of a course sponsored by the National Automobile Dealers Association.
"I'm a good guy," said Nolan Burgess, a salesman from Benson Motor Cars in Annapolis. "Nobody reports about people like me."
These comments were encouraged by Mr. Gercke, who sold cars for three years in Wilmington, Del., before starting his own consulting business in San Diego. Now he spends 10 days a month touring for the car dealers' association. He'll hold a second seminar in Annapolis today and a third Wednesday in Baltimore.
Yesterday, Mr. Gercke tried to reassure the audience as he pointed to charts with phrases such as "New Image" and "100 Percent Honesty."
"You know what I'm holding up here?" he asked as he pointed to the motivational materials.
"Money!" one participant volunteered.
"No. What I'm holding up here is your ethics. I'm holding all your ethics," he said. "You are ethical."
Mr. Gercke said the class is geared to raise the car salesman's consciousness, not just his image. "It's easy for them to take rejection personally," he said during a break. "I'm not interested in how they sell cars. I'm interested in how they feel as people."
The course, which costs $295, includes six audio tapes and a book on federal and state laws and personal development as part of a self-taught program. Those who pass a test at the end of the seminar get a certificate from the National Automobile Dealers Association that Mr. Gercke said would boost consumer confidence in the hundreds of Maryland car salesmen and managers expected to participate in the program.
The association contends the seminar, begun three years ago, is the best way to change the industry's image in Maryland.
Car buyers file approximately 3,000 complaints over warranty and contract disputes with Maryland car dealerships each year, according to the state Motor Vehicle Administration.
There was little talk of consumer complaints during the ethics seminar. Instead, the salesman talked about the tough times on the asphalt lots. They recounted stories of 14 hour days, customers with unrealistic expectations and customers who never mentioned their poor credit rating until the last minute.
Before lunch, they broke into small groups to try to come up with ways around what they call their bum wrap. Among the suggestions batted around: Don't lie. Don't put your feet on the desk. Make direct eye contact.
Mr. Gercke had an additional piece of advice for dealing with female customers. According to surveys, 65 percent of women feel they are treated worse than men by car salespeople. "You've got to understand this is the age of the woman and some of this stuff is being driven to the point of paranoia about their issues," he said. "But you've got to change your attitude in your own hearts."
Several car salesmen said their attitudes are fine, and argued that the rest of the world needs some attitude adjustment.
Dave Shepherd of Bob Smith Automotive in Easton lamented:
"If people knew how hard it was to be a salesman, they'd never say any of this stuff."